Lead Poisoning—Child

Definition

Lead is a toxic metal that is common in the environment. Experts believe that no level of lead in the body is safe for children. Concern about lead poisoning in children occurs when lead reaches a level of 10 mcg/dL in the blood. Levels of 20 mcg/dL or more represent actual lead poisoning. This can lead to:Lower levels of blood lead below currently accepted safe levels can lead to learning and/or behavioral difficulties. They can also delay puberty in boys.

Causes

Lead can be absorbed into the bloodstream by eating, drinking, or breathing contaminated particles.Lead is used in many industrial processes and within the home. It can be found in:
  • Paint
  • Dust
  • Soil
  • Drinking water
  • Food—rarely
Most homes built before 1960 contain some lead-based paint. This was banned from residential use in 1978. Dust containing lead can linger on windowsills and in window wells. Drinking water that travels through lead pipes, or through pipes with lead-based soldering, may also be contaminated. Lead can become mixed with dirt after it peels from paint on building exteriors. Industrial sources and car exhaust also contribute to the problem. Lead levels in the air have dropped since lead additives were banned from gasoline in the 1970s. Food produced outside of the United States can be contaminated if packaged in lead-soldered cans.

Risk Factors

Children who are 6 and younger are at increased risk for lead poisoning. Factors that increase your child's risk for lead poisoning include:
  • Ingesting non-food items, also known as pica—a behavior in most young children and some children with neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Living in a house or apartment built before 1960
  • Living in neighborhoods where homes were built before 1960
  • Living in a home with adults whose work or hobbies put them in contact with lead
  • Receiving transfusions from adults who have relatively high lead levels in the blood. This is a special risk for small infants receiving newborn intensive care.
  • Being born to a mother who has high levels of lead stored in her bones. Pregnancy often causes this lead to move from the bones to the bloodstream. It may cross the placenta and affect a developing baby.
  • Breast milk may also contain lead. Nursing mothers who live in houses with lead hazards may transmit lead to their babies through breastfeeding .
Placenta Blood Flow
Placenta Function
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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